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Cataracts - The Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Your sight is the most important of the five senses. It allows you to see the world around you, and navigate your way through your life. Vision protects you from danger and enables you to communicate with others. And anything that compromises your sight could seriously impact your quality of life.

Cataracts are a common eye problem that causes a vision problem affects a lot of people. In fact, according to a study by the National Eye Institute (NEI), cataracts affect approximately 24.4 million Americans aged 40 years or older. Although they primarily occur in older people, anyone can develop a cataract for a wide variety of reasons.

The symptoms are varied but basically cause a cloudy lens of the eye, and sometimes the effects of a cataract can be minor. But if left unchecked, they can increase in severity and may lead to blurry vision, double vision, or even complete vision loss. In this case, cataract removal and the installation of an artificial lens is the most common treatment.Cataract Diagram

If you’re experiencing issues with your sight, vision blurry, or clouding of the lens of your eye, or are worried about your eye health or potentially some form of eye disease, it’s a good idea to learn more about the condition. Understanding the causes and symptoms of cataracts can help you identify the warning signs and take action to protect your eyes as soon as possible.

The following article takes a detailed look at cataracts and what it involves. It will cover the causes of the condition, the most common symptoms, and your options for preventing and treating it. 

What are cataracts?

A cataract is a clouding of the lens that sits in the eye behind the pupil. It usually occurs in just one eye, although it can occur in both. This clouded lens is usually clear, but the cataract prevents light rays from passing through and hitting the light-sensitive tissue lining of the retina at the back of the eye. The clouding is caused by a change of structure that occurs in the protein which the lens of the eye is made of. 

Often, a cataract is so small it doesn’t have a huge impact on the individual’s ability to see. But they can worsen over time, and although a cataract can’t spread from one eye to the eye, there is nothing to stop it developing in both. If left unchecked, the cataract may expand to affect more of the lens. Eventually, there is a risk of vision loss.

Although the general symptoms are the same, there are numerous types of cataract that affect different people for different reasons. Here are some of the different varieties of cataracts.Cataract In Eye

Congenital Cataract

Although cataracts predominantly occur in older people, babies can still be born with the condition. Some infants may also develop cataracts over the course of their childhood. In some cases, these have little to no impact on their lives, but other times they may severely affect the eyesight and need to be removed. Congenital cataracts generally occur as a result of genetic causes, but may otherwise be associated with a maternal condition such as an intrauterine infection. 

Age Related Cataracts

Cataracts are most commonly seen in adults over the age of 40, and the risk level increases the older one gets. There is no conclusive answer as to why this is the case, but there are many additional lifestyle risk factors that can increase the likelihood of occurrence.  In pediatric ophthalmology, however, and early cataract can sometimes be detected.  Age related macular degeneration is sometimes related to an age related cataract that affects the eyes lens.

Secondary Cataracts

A secondary cataract occurs as a result of another disease or medical condition within the body. These may include things like diabetes, myotonic dystrophy, galactosemia, neurofibromatosis type two, or rubella. They have also been linked to steroid use.Cataract Eye

Traumatic Cataracts

A traumatic cataract can be caused by an injury to one or both eyes. In this scenario, the cataract may occur immediately after the eye injury or due to contact lenses, or may become apparent after a period of several years.  Sometimes these can be repaired with an intraocular lens.  

There are also types of cataracts that affect different parts of the lens and therefore have different effects and identifiers. These include:

Nuclear Cataracts

A nuclear cataract, otherwise known as a nuclear sclerotic cataract, is a developing cataract in the center of the eye’s lens. At first, it may manifest as increased nearsightedness and a reduction of distance vision, or even a temporary improvement in vision. Cataracts develop slowly, however, and with time your vision will worsen and the normally clear lens will become clouded and densely yellow. As this eye condition progresses, the color may shift from yellow to brown, which could lead to difficulties in distinguishing between different colors and shades.

Cortical Cataracts

The Cortical cataract affects the outer edges of the lens of your eye, beginning as opaque white streaks. During the cataract formation, these streaks move to the center of the lens and interfere with light passing through.

Posterior Subcapsular Cataracts

A posterior subcapsular cataract affects the back of the lens, directly impeding the passage of light. It starts as a small opaque area but then progresses a lot faster than other types of cataract. This type of cataract often interferes with reading vision, night vision, and causes sensitivity to bright light.Eye Cataract

What causes cataracts?

Cataracts are caused by a structural change in the protein that makes up the lens of the eye, resulting in deposits and clumps. This results in the lens becoming increasingly clouded over time and subsequently impacting vision.

There is no single cause for this process, and experts are unsure exactly what triggers it. Nevertheless, there are numerous risk factors that are known to increase one’s chances of developing cataracts. These include:

  • Smoking

  • Diabetes, aka Diabetic Retinopathy

  • Excessive exposure to sunlight

  • Using steroids

  • Using diuretics

  • Using certain major tranquilizers

Who is at risk of developing cataracts?Cataract and Normal Eye

Although it can happen to anyone, you are more at risk from cataracts if you are in certain age groups, demographics, or adopt certain lifestyle habits. Here are a few of the predominant risk factors for cataracts.

Age: The older you are, the more likely you are to develop cataracts.

Altitude: Certain studies have shown that people who live at higher altitudes are more susceptible to cataracts than others.

Sun Exposure: Spending too much time in bright sunlight can have a range of negative health impacts, but can also impact your vision too. A lifetime of sun exposure without adequate eye protection greatly increases your risk of developing cataracts.

General Health: Adopting unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol, unhealthy eating, and using certain substances can increase your cataract risk.

Medical History: If you have had certain medical conditions and procedures in the past, this may put you at higher risk. This includes diabetes, high blood pressure, previous eye injury or inflammation, and previous eye surgery.

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

A cataract can manifest itself on one’s vision in a variety of ways. Although the textbook definition is the clouding of a lens, each individual may experience cataract symptoms differently. Some of the common signs and symptoms include:

  • Clouded or blurry vision

  • Poor night vision

  • Double vision

  • Colors appearing faded

  • Increased sensitivity to bright light

  • Seeing a glare or halo around lights

  • Increased nearsightedness, requiring one to change their glasses prescription regularly

  • Distortion of vision in either eye

A cataract tends to grow very slowly, to the point where any changes in your vision may appear so gradually as to be almost unnoticeable. As cataracts generally occur in older people, it is often written off as age-related vision degeneration until it becomes more severe. As the cataract grows, it is likely vision will become significantly worse over time. In some cases, close up vision actually improves for a short time before worsening.

In the early stages, it is difficult to identify or rule out a cataract without seeking professional help. If you notice these cataract symptoms or any other changes to your vision, it’s best to speak to your health care provider or eye doctor.

What can you do to prevent cataracts?

Despite the prevalence and numerous causes of cataracts, there are plenty of things you can do to prevent them or slow their progression.  Eye conditions may permit the efficacious use of an eye drop or eyeglass prescription, but these are unlikely to repair blurred vision from the lens capsule.   

The single most important contributor to cataract formation is a poor diet.  For example, in India where poverty and malnutirion are experienced by tens of milllions of people, there are over 10 million cases of double-blindness caused by cataracts.  A balanced diet with good vitamin intake is critical to reduce cataract formation.


Some other preventative measures to avoid surgery include:

  • Having regular eye examinations, at least once a year will greatly reduce your chance of developing a cataract. Your eye doctor will be able to check the health of your eye and identify any signs of cataracts or other causes for concern. They will also be able to provide you with advice and guidance for looking after your vision.

  • Stop smoking if you are currently a smoker. There are plenty of support groups, medications, and other treatments that can help you break the habit, and will improve many other aspects of your health as well as your eyes. Speak to your doctor if you need help quitting. 

  • Wear sunglasses in brighter light and sunny weather to prevent the harm caused by ultraviolet light.

  • Use a magnifying glass or stronger prescription eyeglasses for reading, to avoid strain on your eyes.

  • Manage any other health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure by following a treatment plan prescribed by your doctor.

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet featuring plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. This will ensure you receive adequate vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants which can improve eye health.

How are cataracts diagnosed?

A cataract diagnosis usually happens in a particular way. When you see your doctor, they will take a medical history and perform a complete eye exam. They will then ask you to complete a visual acuity test, which assesses your vision at different distances. The doctor will also likely dilate your pupils with eye drops to allow a close up examination of your retina. This will allow them to spot any of the signs and symptoms of cataracts.

What are the complications of cataracts?

A cataract of any kind should not be left untreated. Even though your vision problems may not be too severe or disruptive, there is always a risk your condition could worsen and leave you with complete sight loss.

Can cataracts be treated?

If you have one or more cataracts, there are a number of ways to treat your condition. The right course of treatment for your cataract diagnosis will depend on a number of factors, including your age, medical history, and nature of the cataract. Some of the treatment options include:

Eyesight Treatment: The loss of eyesight caused by cataracts can be treated and mitigated ina  number of different ways. These include using different eyeglasses, a magnifying glass, or stronger lighting. If symptoms are minor and don’t significantly impede the quality of life, this treatment may be all that is needed.

Cataract Surgery: Cataract surgery for surgical removal and implantation of an intraocular artificial lens may be necessary if vision problems become so severe they impede day-to-day activities such as reading, driving, and watching television. Your healthcare provider will advise you as to whether cataract surgery and an artificial lens implant is the right course of action. Fortunately, cataract surgery is very common and is one of the safest treatments out there. It involves swapping out the cloudy lens with a new lens in order to restore normal vision. This cataract removal is also known as extracapsular cataract extraction. 

What are the risks of cataract surgery?

Although cataract surgery is incredibly safe, there are some risks, as with any medical procedure. In some cases, the patient may develop an after cataract, which occurs when part of the natural lens left in the eye becomes clouded and blurs your eyesight. This can easily be treated with a technique called YAG laser capsulotomy. An after cataract could develop months or even years after the initial cataract surgery. Other potential rare complications include retinal detachment, but this occurs in less than one percent of cataract surgery patients.

Get in touch to learn more

If you would like to learn more about cataracts, their symptoms, causes, and treatment options, get in touch today for more information. We can help you understand the risks and prevention methods, as well as what is involved in cataract surgery. Your eyes are one of the most important parts of your body, so it’s essential you take charge of your health and protect your vision.


Author of this article: 

Mark Agnew, AuthorMark Agnew
CEO of Eyeglasses.com, which he founded in 1999.  For over twenty years, he has educated consumers, improved their vision choices, and reduced costs in eyewear.  Mark authored The Eyeglasses Buying Guide, the most comprehensive and best-selling glasses buying guide in the world.

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